When Discipline Becomes Abuse : Why I need Feminism

“It is such a revolutionary concept in India – to accept that one has been the victim of CHILD abuse which is physical and emotional – in no way connected to sexual abuse. After all, it is a parent’s right to “discipline” a child, right?” – An Indian Teenager

This is a guest post by An Indian Teenager.

This was a very difficult post for me to write, but here it goes -

Since the past ten-eleven months, I have been having feelings of anger and hopelessness. Anger – mainly towards my father. Also towards myself. I couldn’t understand it at first. I mean, I’m in my late teens – surely, I have already passed the rebellious age?

Like all children I was naughty and troublesome. I was disciplined regularly.

Even as a child, I knew my father was unpredictable – I never knew what could make him angry and what would make me gain his approval. If he laughed indulgently at me for doing a particular thing today, he would be furious tomorrow. It was normal for me.

I remember that I especially hated dinner-time. Dinner was basically used to belittle me and curse me – for not spending enough time studying, for example. Saying stuff like “you filthy bitch” was very common. I remember I always went to bed crying. It was normal to me.

Slowly, I started becoming more and more introverted. I didn’t talk much. I didn’t speak much to my father, never knowing what could let loose another one of his tempers. It was normal to me.

He hit me – sometimes for half of the night if my behavior was not pleasing. It was normal for me.

I first questioned this when I was in class 7, I think. I kept a journal in which I wrote after events of this kind. Once, after a really long session, I just reached my limit. While writing, I declared that I would not take it anymore and I would rebel. I think that was the beginning of my “teenage rebellion” period.

Here are a few instances

#1 I was in class 1 when one night my mom suddenly rushed into the room I was sleeping in and screamed “save me, save me!”. I thought she was playing some game and playfully extended my hands, making a barrier. My mom sat behind me. Imagine my shock when my father slapped me and I fell down. I didn’t know what to do. I heard my mom slap my dad and my dad shrieking “What?! How dare you do this to your HUSBAND?!”. I think I repressed what he did after that because I can’t remember it. I haven’t been able to get this incident out of my head even after more than 12yrs.

#2 once, during the usual late night violence my father slapped me and bellowed “HOW DARE YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYE?!”

#3 After that, I always kept my eyes down when he shouted at me. I don’t know why, but one day he suddenly screamed “LOOK ME IN THE EYE! ARE YOU A CRIMINAL TO NOT DO THAT?!”. See what I said about being unpredictable?

#4 Once, I was changing clothes and I was a bit late in opening the door to my room. My father was repeatedly banging the door and I opened it in the same moment he banged it again. The knob hit my lower lip. He hit me again, looked at me with murderous eyes and went away. My lips got swollen and I had to lie to everybody who asked me. In an ideal situation, I shouldn’t have lied. Everybody makes mistakes, right? I guess I didn’t tell the truth because in my heart I knew it was not normal. My father didn’t even apologize. Ever. So, he didn’t regret it, right? That’s how I felt at that time anyway. And still continue to now (I guess you could say he regretted it but didn’t show it – but, well.. Maybe I’m selfish in wanting him to say it out loud).
I felt so humiliated – walking around, lying, not speaking (because the swell resulted in speech difficulties and then everybody would ask “what happened?” etc). Basically, I felt like one of those women I always read about. They got beaten and lied to everyone around it.
I still didn’t think I was abused, though. No, never. What an alien concept it was.

#5 A few months back, I and my mother had a misunderstanding and I told her to not sleep with me (she sleeps with my dad. But, that day I wanted her to sleep with me and then, due to an argument, I changed my mind. I wanted to be alone).
My dad came storming to my room and hit me repeatedly (I still don’t know what triggered it. My mom going back??) and started verbally abusing my mother and started saying things like – nobody loves her, not me, not him and we just wanna get rid of her. I felt so bad, then. I wished I didn’t say anything at all. I love my mom. We have fights and she scolds me too and even though she doesn’t say anything when my dad hits me, I still love her. I know its not her fault and she doesn’t walk out because she doesn’t want ME to have any problems (financially) with my studies.
And, I mean, he hit me repeatedly – and I thought it was OK because he was my dad but I just got really angry when he suddenly picked up a sandal and hit my mom on her head.

At first, I was so shocked I thought I must have imagined it. I always justified his actions on me on the basis of the relationship we share but to hit his wife? An equal partner? And she didn’t even protest? It was too much to take.

I’m giving instances and not really saying much because I just feel so.. disturbed.. while writing this that I’m afraid it will be incoherent.

So, as I said, I’ve been having feelings of anger and hopelessness. One day, I decided to google “child abuse”. I knew what I was seeing was definitely domestic violence and I saw a few comments saying that a child should not be hit and stuff. It made me wonder about my feelings – is it normal teenage angst or an effect of child abuse?

When I read up on child abuse, it made me accept so many other feelings – too disorganised to think about it consciously – as normal. For eg – hesitation in speaking to my father even about the most trivial of things, distancing myself emotionally from him, hating him (in no way temporary) , etc.

It is such a revolutionary concept in India – to accept that one has been the victim of CHILD abuse which is physical and emotional – in no way connected to sexual abuse. After all, it is a parent’s right to “discipline” a child, right?

I know for a fact that my father was mistreated by his mother and his sisters were given far more importance (ironic in India) than him. I realise that this shaped his attitude toward life and discipline in a major way. I realise it, but I cannot excuse his behaviour.

Due to this, I even have a lot of commitment problems and every (esp romantic) relationship to me is some sort of a power-game. I know it is sick. I didn’t even notice it before but I realized it during a couple of sessions in school with my counselor. I try to consciously make efforts to change this, but it is not as easy as it sounds. I felt so pathetic, crying in front of her, complaining about my father – who, in all fairness, had given me a decent education and pays for everything.

It has shaped the way I look at relationships and men and it will probably take months of therapy to be at peace with myself. Even to think about a serious relationship/marriage (which most girls my age do) is traumatising for me.

My father even admits he hates me and we have lived under the same roof without talking to each other for weeks. I cannot pretend to love him. I hate him too. I guess its disrespectful, but I can’t really respect him after how he messed me up. Atleast, not now.

I remember thinking once – What is the use of being a feminist? How is feminism helping me here? I still have to deal with this, don’t I?

I couldn’t find any answer straightaway and promised to rethink my association with the movement if I didn’t find any satisfactory answer. Also, wouldn’t this question crop up repeatedly in trying circumstances?

I thought for a few days and formulated my answer -:

I need feminism because even if it doesn’t change anything for me right now, my daughters won’t have to suffer if I bring them up in a feminist way. And won’t I get my own place and have my own life when I move out? I want to and I will not let myself be restricted by social norms when I’m financially independent. Isn’t that feminist? Isn’t even the courage to think about these and follow these feminist?

That day was a big day for me. It made me more of a feminist than ever and anytime my previous doubts crop up, I remind myself of my answer. It feels great to know that I’m a feminist and feminism DOES have the power to change lives – by encouraging you, empowering you, giving you choices – and most importantly, letting you live for yourself.
Many people may say this is selfish – but really, you live only once and why would anyone wish a person to waste away her/his life following some hypocritical moral societal standards? Why would anyone not want a person to follow her/his dreams and ambitions?
Why?
The people who do the above strike me as the most selfish, because they expect OTHERS to conform to THEIR standards so that they will feel less threatened about the way they live or won’t feel insecure about their morals. After all, if most people follow a particular way of life (even if some are bulldozed into it), its gotta be correct and moral and ethical and all things nice, correct?

Anyway, I wrote this to tell the people who read this post (not everybody who reads this blog comments, nor are all comments published so not all who comment here are as liberal as some of the faithful commenters) – please think about the way you are raising your children. No matter whether it is traditional or you were brought up this way or you see a vast majority of people following a particular way of parenting.

“Is this humane?” – that is the question you should ask. Please do, it may mean one less person who has to go through the amount of anguish I go through while with my parents (dad) everyday.

Related Posts:

By an Indian Teenager – “Sometimes it seems like every single thing I do has the potential to be something ‘provocative’.”

An email from a Divorcee’s Daughter.

An email from a daughter whose mother endured everything because she did not want to ruin her daughters’ lives.

Let us not for a minute forget that we women still walk across minefields…

32 thoughts on “When Discipline Becomes Abuse : Why I need Feminism

  1. My heart goes out to this young woman…She’s right, the line between discipline and abuse is blurry in India…Like everything else (sexual abuse etc.), it is explained away…Therapy is the only way out otherwise this cycle will continue…

    • I don’t think that’s the case. I’m sure the father knew how to handle himself when he was in the company of his peers or superiors. He just took it out on his weak wife and defenseless child.

      My in-laws once visited us when my son was 2 yrs old. It was summer and one day they took him out for a walk, stayed way beyond his lunch time and did not give him adequate water. When he came back he was in no mood for lunch, got cranky and kept asking for juice. Now my MIL instead of apologizing for keeping the kid out and hungry way beyond his lunch time, pulled the glass of juice that I was about to give him from my hand making it splash all over the kitchen floor, then told me that I should punish my 2 yr old thirsty toddler for misbehaving by giving him a good beating.

      She said that her daughter my SIL, who is educated ( maybe the word should be literate) and is a branch manager of a bank beats her two boys till her hands ache. I was boiling with rage by then, but managed to compose myself to ask her why she would do that to which the MIL nonchalantly replies “what can she do, her job is so stressfull, so when the kids misbehave she sets them straight”.

      I lost it after that, first of all never to get physical with me and then, I told her that if her daughter found her job stressfull, she needed to find a way to destress and not use her children as a punching bags and looking at the way she has raised her daughter, she should’nt be giving me parenting advice anyway.

    • I disagree, the line is not blurry or unclear in the least. The father certainly knows how to treat other human beings, and he certainly follows those rules with people he respect. I doubt very much, for example, that he screams, uses violence or makes statements like “how dare you look me in the eye” when having a disagreement with his boss or his co-worker at work.

      Thus when he treats his wife and daughter this way, the problem is with his respect for them as human beings. Some part of him thinks that he had the right to treat them like property, like cattle, not like humans.

  2. Dear LW,

    Mental, physical and emotional abuse is equally damaging as sexual abuse is to a child.Your father is a very sick man, to do what he did. I don’t know if anything can be done about him, but the best thing for you right now is to get out of that home.

    Since you are in your late teens, maybe it will be time to go away to college soon, study hard, and go to a college away from your hometown. I know therapists in India are far and few in between and therapy costs money, but try to get some kind of help if possible. But above all know that what happened was never your fault. You did not deserve to be treated the way you have been treated.

    Love and hugs to you.

  3. I pretty much agree with what Desi Girl above has said…it’s a tough childhood you’ve spent and when you didn’t deserve it even for a moment…childhood: the precious time of our lives where we are molded to become ‘something’ when we grow up,must be treated in all fairness and handled tenderly…

    I wish your father understood this…I wish he would not have acted selfish and had controlled his mind and actions while dealing with you…

    I also wish your mother would have stood grounds for you,if not for her!

    But all that has been done ..the time in hands is ‘now’…today the way you’ve written this email goes to show that you are a balanced person in your thoughts…you know right from wrong and I think this will help you move forward in life ..I wish you all the best in all your future decisions..you’ve to be brave!

    P.S. I will not tell you to forget the past or leave it behind…no I don’t want you to do that..I want you to remember it and be strong and stand for yourself and your future children! But I would certainly tell you to keep it aside, for reference, and move on with life!

  4. “I want to and I will not let myself be restricted by social norms when I’m financially independent. Isn’t that feminist? Isn’t even the courage to think about these and follow these feminist?” and ” Why would anyone not want a person to follow her/his dreams and ambitions?
    Why? The people who do the above strike me as the most selfish, because they expect OTHERS to conform to THEIR standards so that they will feel less threatened about the way they live or won’t feel insecure about their morals.” This. It’s so simple.

    I don’t think this woman needs any advice. She has figured it out pretty well. Still, she’s living through a touch situation so just wanted to say, if you ever need some support, reach out to us.

  5. Hugs and love to you email writer! You are a very strong women. Having gone through childhood abuse (in a milder form) myself I have immense respect for you and can totally relate to your feelings.

  6. A lot of this seems familiar. Indian parents do not know where to draw the line between discipline and abuse. I have been a victim, I should know. It is the viciousness with which the attack (both verbal and physical) comes that lets you know without doubt that the line of discipline has been crossed and it is now abuse.
    It takes away the confidence of the child and marks them for life, insecurity becomes a way of life. It is possible to get out of it and become normal, needs a lot of strength, courage and determination. Still as a grown up you feel a lot insecure as compared to those who have had a normal childhood/upbringing. But it is in our hands to stop the cycle, if those of us who have suffered are determined, not to go the same way.

  7. Dear Letter Writer,
    I’m so glad and SO thankful that you’ve realised that you’re in a sick situation and you’re ready to take help and to take your life back in your own hands. So many people continue in the vicious cycle of bringing up their children in the same manner without realising how dangerous it is. Your father is a sick man – please make sure you keep your future children far away from him – whether its a girl/boy.

    I loved the last line of your letter – I hope the silent lurkers and/or trolls here read that and I hope your letter touches them in some way.

    Remember that you’re never alone. Things can only get better now. Lots of love and hugs to you.

  8. I would like to draw attention to an issue related to one that the letter writer above has mentioned. The letter writer talks about discipline.

    I have similar experience but the only twist in the tail is that my parents were constantly fighting over something or the other. I have grown up watching my parents bash each other verbally and sometimes physically. What is surprising is, they dint want to get away from each other just because “what will the society think”, especially my mom.

    I remember running after my father when he threatened to leave home and walked out. I have appeared for several exams in my school days without studying since there were other sorts of lessons being taught at home. My father occasionally used to bash me too, and like the letter writer i thought that it was my “fair share” since my mother is already getting hers.

    None of my parents cared to ask me how i felt. How i felt was too much actually. They dint even care if i existed.

    Not to mention, now that everything is settled. They both are very happy and now they have realised that they have a daughter who needs attention at the age of 25+.

    The point i am trying to make is, after all this i have a formed a firm belief in my mind that marriage means the above scenario. Like the letter writer i have severe commitment issues and at this age too i think negatively about marriage.

    I alienate myself if some genuinely nice guy tries to get close to me. I suddenly go into my shell and stay there for quite some time. For me, the thing called love exists only in books(which i love to read). Oh yes, i have also witnessed how the children brought up in “normal” environment are different from children like us. It may sound absurd, but i am actually scared of love and the events that may follow after marriage.

    Hence, i would request all parents and to be parents to nurture their kids very carefully.

  9. Hugs LW. I know what you mean. It is very common for parents to take out if not all but some of their tensions and worries out on the kids. Been there, seen that. Yes, it gets etched in the memory that you were punished and beaten up for no fault of yours. Yes, it makes us emotionally un-attached to the parent and trying to get away from the situation. You must focus in getting away right now. Do your best in education and as soon as you feel that you can be financially independent, move out. And take your mother too. I’m sure your sick man won’t agree for counselling so let him be. He will never come around. Old age does that to one. Makes one feel they are right because they have been doing that since ages and because they are old.
    Plan your future and make lot of friends who take your mind off these things.
    All the best to you.

  10. This letter needs to be shown to everyone who has even the teeniest of doubts about the relevance of feminism.
    Also I want to applaud the letter writer. Inspite of going through hell, she is incredibly brave. Hang in there dear friend and as soon as you are able to please get out of that hell hole. And remember always remember – this is not your fault and you definitely deserve better. Let no one tell you otherwise.

  11. Felt gutted reading this account. What is outstanding is the L.W’s mental strength. Not many abuse victims have this level of clarity – the L.W. was able to mentally detach herself, analyse the situation, even try counselling, also understand the impact this abuse has on her future relationships. Extraordinary strength.

    To anyone reading this blog, please do take a look at this Wheel of Abuse. This helps us differentiate between discipline and abuse.

    http://www.csswashtenaw.org/ada/resources/Duluth_child_abuse_wheel.pdf

    L.W…all I can do is send my prayers to you dear.

  12. Well, I’m glad you found your way, eh.

    Domestic violence (directed either at a spouse or at a child) always makes me feel sick. It has nothing to do with ‘discipline’. There are a million disciplinary methods which parents can use without resorting to severe beatings or verbal abuse. What’s more, most parents know this.

    As a kid, you ended up in the crossfire of domestic violence, and I can only imagine that trauma.

    The fact that there is a ‘usual, late-night violence’ points to something very, very wrong. Good on you for realizing that.

  13. Dear Indian Teenager,
    I am a Guy and in a way I went through what you went.My father has hit me rarely buy mentally he was very abusive.He lied,told me I was useless and a rascal and all other abuses to my mother and me.He made me lose confidence in myself and made an introvert.He was physically abusive towards my mother,I remember being around 7 years old trying to stop him from hitting my mother.Well he never improved.He had a temper and always used to remove his anger on me but in the end like you I had to stop it one day.
    It all came to breaking point when I had my board exams.He was hitting my mother while I was studying for my next day’s paper.That moment when I saw his hand raise I just felt my blood boil and I went there and punched him,he hit me back but I HAD ENOUGH!
    Whatever I said might not be completely related to the blog and your post about feminism.My point is that mental abuse leaves a deeper and invisible scar on you,it takes a lot of effort to heal it.
    I do hope you go on to be the person your father was not.Take care.

  14. Dear LW – I am so sorry for all that you are going through. I know fully well how you feel and how much it hurts. I come from a very similar family. First the beatings were only on my mother and then it was me. All the while we stayed because of the money. What has this upbringing given me? Terrible insecurity in relationships (which man is going to want me?), terrible insecurity when it comes to looks and ability, high levels of anxiety and fear of confrontation. I jump even when someone touches me on the shoulder from behind, I am that anxious by nature. It took me several years to settle down in my marriage and to even be able to talk to my husband without the dark shadows clouding my thoughts. I mistook my husband’s every move to be something I needed to fight against, just so that I didn’t end up in the same sort of life my mother had and I was raised in. It took several rocky years for him to understand my baggage and for me to learn to relate to a man. Things may not be perfect, but I am in a much happier place. And I wish the same for you. The way you write, it seems you are such a strong person who is able to sort out your feelings so well. I hope and pray you find happiness and are able to build relationships without all this baggage affecting you. It will take years but you will get there where you can leave your parents behind and lead a happy life. I hope you are able to focus on your education and secure financial independence soon. You have lost out on a precious childhood and formative teenage years where instead of the normal child who is carefree you have had to bear a HUGE burden on your shoulder. And you are not at fault, you were only a child. I hope you can overcome all of this and experience the freedom and innocence and happiness every child deserves. All my love to you!!

  15. Hugs to you. I hope your message reaches at least a few “strict disciplinarian” type parents.

    I hope you’re nearly done with school. Please pick a college that is far away from your home, maybe even abroad. That way, you won’t have to wait until you’re financially independent to be free of the physical and mental abuse. And hopefully once you’re financially independent, your mother will get away too.

    You’re amazingly self-aware too, so I’m sure you’ll sort out relationship troubles too. And Kudos to you for having such a wise head on your teenaged shoulders! I don’t think I grew any sense until my early twenties :D

  16. What is with fathers (or elders in general) and that ‘look me in the eye’ thing? I have had the same experience with my father too(tho he is a loving dad ) , cant look in the eye, cant look away, cant speak, can’t ignore. They feel insulted about everything.

  17. Dear Indian Teenager – first hugs and second R.E.S.P.E.C.T. I am very glad to see that a profound maturity has set in and there is a firm head above those dainty shoulders. Despite all the angst and pain, you have managed to put your point across . Hopefully we all learn a lesson or two from this. You definitely have a right to live your life and in your way and it is in no way selfish. Like you say there may be difficulty in pursuing relationships but trust me not all men are like your father.Wishing you all the joy, happiness and peace

  18. Dear Letter Writer,
    You are in a very difficult and disturbing situation, but your clear thinking reflects your mental strength. Hold on to it tightly because it will determine how you get out of this situation.

    While you work through this situation, always remember these 2 things:
    1) Nobody has any right to hit you. No matter how much that person does for you(like you have mentioned your dad pays for everything including your education),or what that person’s childhood has been like or what stress a person may be facing – there is absolutely no justification for physically abusing a child.

    2) It’s not your fault. Just because you cannot take care of yourself independently at the moment, makes you an easy target. Never feel that you got treated this way because of something you did or somehow you deserved it. Don’t ever let this affect your self-worth.

    All the best and stay strong.

  19. I’m so sorry to hear this Indian Teenager; but at the same time I’m glad that you’ve realized that what was happening was not right, and that you have the right to be furious about it. Not a lot of domestic violence survivors, be it adults or children, understand this. Nothing makes me sadder than to hear victims blame themselves. I also applaud you for understanding your mother’s position, though I hope someday she can stand up for herself and for you, and help put an end to this. Kudos to you for bravely sharing your story with us! And I hope things gt better for you soon; like previous commentators I would also hope you can move away from your father, for college, work etc, and can begin to heal from the damage this has caused. Good luck, and lots of hugs! Hang in there.

  20. Dear Indianteenager,

    I am absolutely dumbstruck and speechless. Words fail me after reading about the kind of mindless violence you have been going through. I don’t have the words to decry what has been happening to you.

    The sheer amount of violence against women, no matter what kind is simply sickening. One point that makes me wonder is why we even call of “feminism”? Is this only a women’s issue? Are we not basically human beings regardless of our gender? Is not what we call “feminism” a fight for the right to live with dignity and peace a fight for a basic human right? We do not refer to men who fight against domestic violence (yes, strangely enough there seem to be men who get victimized too) as “manists”. They just fight against domestic violence – a crime.

    Although this might sound a crazy argument in the wrong place or even nit picking, I feel that by labelling a fight as “feminism” or “women’s lib” (which seems to have got a bad name and become the subject of ridicule owing to the bra burning kind of “women’s libbers”), the whole fight for women to be treated as human beings with the same rights as men is being trivialized. Feminism is not just looked down on patronizingly or laughed at outright at worst merely because this is looked on as a silly rebellion by silly people viz. women. It is something akin to teenage rebellion. The underlying issues get completely ignored.

    Sorry for digressing from the main topic, but I could not help thinking of this when I read the following bit:

    “I remember thinking once – What is the use of being a feminist? How is feminism helping me here? I still have to deal with this, don’t I?

    I couldn’t find any answer straightaway and promised to rethink my association with the movement if I didn’t find any satisfactory answer. Also, wouldn’t this question crop up repeatedly in trying circumstances?

    I thought for a few days and formulated my answer -:

    I need feminism because even if it doesn’t change anything for me right now, my daughters won’t have to suffer if I bring them up in a feminist way. And won’t I get my own place and have my own life when I move out? I want to and I will not let myself be restricted by social norms when I’m financially independent. Isn’t that feminist? Isn’t even the courage to think about these and follow these feminist?”

    No dear, your fight is not feminism. What you are fighting for is basic human rights, your fundamental rights, not for some special rights that women are demanding.

  21. Pingback: Why is abuse by parents taken so lightly by Indians? | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  22. Pingback: ” My mom (a doctor) left her MD midway because my dad and his parents wanted her to ‘come and be their bahu’. “ | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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